Amplified Organization: From Superheroes to Super Mindsets

Topics: Future of Learning

Ever since Marshall McLuhan introduced the idea in 1964 that technology could be interpreted as extensions of the self, researchers from various backgrounds have played with the vision of augmented humans to different extents and in different ways. During the creation of 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning, KnowledgeWorks identified signals of change indicating that the time was right to explore not only the notion of extended humans in education but also its ability to remake organizations.

The 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning, published ten years ago, revealed how many of our fundamental relationships — with ourselves; within our organizations; and with systems, societies and economies — were being reimagined and re-created in ways that could disrupt the status quo and challenge our usual assumptions.
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The 2020 Forecast highlights six major drivers of change that ten years ago seemed as if they could have a significant impact on education. These drivers of change helped KnowledgeWorks map the future to jumpstart conversations around the actions education stakeholders need to take to prepare for potential challenges and emerging opportunities. As part of our ongoing reflection on this forecast and the reality in which we’re living, working and learning now in 2020, this post explores the evolution of the Amplified Organization driver of change.

This driver of change started with the idea that a tech-savvy generation was ready to harness the power of collaborative tools that would amplify people’s individual contributions. It forecast that, as these organizational “superheroes” forged new models based on social, collective and improvisational capabilities, the organizations to which they were contributing would become more resilient to external pressures. In education, amplified students and educators would bolster schools, districts and other learning organizations and challenge their traditional approaches. However, growing disparities between those who extended their human and organizational capacities and those who did not would create more tensions and challenges.

There are connections between the drivers of change identified in the 2020 Forecast to those identified 10 years later in Navigating the Future of Learning. For instance, in the newer forecast, we explore how forces of change such as Amplified Organizations are related to new forces of change like Civic Superpowers.There are connections between the drivers of change identified in the 2020 Forecast to those identified 10 years later in Navigating the Future of Learning. For instance, in the newer forecast, we explore how forces of change such as Amplified Organizations are related to new forces of change like Civic Superpowers.

The call to an amplification adventure

Looking at the concept of Amplified Organization from today’s perspective, it is no secret that students, teachers, schools and our understanding of teaching and learning are shifting. Youth are more civically engaged than they were ten years ago, more and more educators and administrators are questioning the status quo and many higher education institutions are at risk of closing as people’s needs and expectations change and demographics shift. But let’s dig deeper by bringing in two sensemaking questions from the 2020 Forecast.

How are you or your organization doing things that illustrate these amplifications? Let us know on social media. Use #FutureEd and tag us on Twitter at @knowledgeworks.

How have amplified educators and organizations changed the role of school in the broader community?

Nowadays we are seeing more cross-sector involvement in topics related to education. In fact, KnowledgeWorks’ most recent forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, presents a provocation around learning ecosystems as a way of encompassing all the individuals and organizations that are and could be intertwined in individuals’ learning journeys. For example, EduColor, a movement seeking “to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice,” started as a small group supporting diversity. Now it has grown into a cooperative network comprised of educators, parents, students, writers and activists with a strong social media presence to back up its recurrent actions and communications.

Another impressive example is Open Author by OER Commons. It is an online tool that helps educators, self-directed learners, parents and caregivers, librarians and others create or cocreate, remix and access lessons and courses. Because the tool is part of an open educational resources platform, all the materials built upon it are available for free to everyone. This example is a clear case of tech-savvy individuals powering collaborative tools in education.

Together, these examples illustrate two ways in which education has become increasingly amplified over the past decade. However, such amplifications are not experienced homogenously. Not every student or learning community has developed the skills necessary to adapt to the social, economic, political, technological and environmental changes taking place. The reasons for this can vary, ranging from the lack the resources needed to take the big leap, to people following the proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What are the relationships between schools that have amplified and those that have not?

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about the fate of higher education. While some sources report on the failure of institutions and their lack of revenue streams, others tell the story of the rise of Mega-Universities. Ultimately, the closures, mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies reflect the tensions between amplified and unamplified organizations in postsecondary education. Deloitte has outlined five strategic approaches higher education institutions are embracing to redefine their relevance and business models:

  • The “Entrepreneurial University” – Focuses on specialization in response to students’ and state economic needs
  • The “Sharing University” – Aims to outsource or automate administrative activities to focus on the academic core
  • The “Experiential University” – Weaves hands-on work experiences into the curriculum to provide more value to students and employers
  • The “Subscription University” – Offers an ongoing platform for learning soft and technical skills in support of lifelong learning journeys
  • The “Partnership University” – Develops a mutually beneficial relationship with the private sector to stabilize student enrollment and funding streams.

Similarly, the growing school choice movement has pushed public schools to seek more differentiation to attract and retain students and teachers. For example, certain Minneapolis public schools have now a part-time “differentiation specialist” ready to help teachers serve students of all skill levels by codeveloping learning and assessing strategies. Conversely, in the last decade a variety of cooperative networks have emerged as a counter trend to such fierce competition. For example, Internationals Network and NACA Inspired Schools Network aim to bring community and education closer by prizing diverse students’ cultural backgrounds. We will explore more about such networks when we talk about the .

Rewriting superheroes’ journeys

In the context of the Amplified Organization driver, the biggest changes in education over the last decade have been those signaling a shift in people’s mindsets. For example, there has been a realization that everyone can be a teacher and/or a learner because learning is no longer bound to traditional education institutions. Similarly, people have come to see the value of open platforms that support learning through collaboration and participation.

The changes explored in the Amplified Organization driver of change are already happening in niche pockets. But they have not become widespread. Most of today’s relationships among learning communities are still driven by competition and survival, which hinders the amplification of individuals and organizations in the long run and sustains inequitable conditions. However, as more amplified organizations mature and dismantle the myth of the zero-sum game in education, the impacts of this driver of change will become more prevalent.

Drawing upon fourteen years of education foresight, KnowledgeWorks can help you and your stakeholders consider what future possibilities could mean in your context and how you might want to respond.

2020 Forecast Retrospectives